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The Four Gospels are Written

c. 65-95

Following the death of Christ, many of his followers believed that he would return quickly. Because they held this belief, they were very slow to create any written records of his life. But the Second Coming did not come as expected. After about thirty years Christians saw the need to write down an account of Jesus’ life. They got most of their information from eyewitnesses and the oral traditions that had been passed down to them. They called these books gospels which literally means "Good News". Four different gospels were written and canonized by the church. These four are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Several other accounts of Jesus' life have not been recognized as authentic by the Church and are considered non-canonical.

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Three of the canonical gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three accounts contain very similar information about Jesus’ life and teachings. Mark was written in about AD 65 from the oral and written traditions of believers. He was writing at the time of the persecutions and his account focuses on the suffering of Christ which the followers at this time could identify with. Matthew was written in about AD 89. To write his account, he used Mark and a source that scholars have named "Q". "Q" is all of the information that is found in both Matthew and Luke but not in Mark. He also used a source termed "M" which are the things found only in Matthew. Matthew wrote to settled Jewish Christians and his account focuses on Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham as well as Jesus’ as the new Moses who fulfilled the Old Testament. The last of the synoptic gospels written is Luke. Luke was written in about AD 85. Luke used Mark, "Q" and something called "L". "L" is the things only found in Luke. The last of the canonical gospels written is John. John was written in about AD 90 to Christians who lived past the expected time of the second coming. John took the general themes and content of the synoptic gospels and created a sort of narrative of Jesus.

The non-canonical were more than likely written after the canonical gospels and contain many things not found in the cannonical gospels. The Gospel of Thomas, for example, contains 114 sayings ascribed to Jesus. Other non-canonical gospels try to fill in the gaps left by the canonical gospels. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas for example tells of Jesus’ boyhood and casts him as a child prodigy. Others lay claim to the authority of an apostle or close follower. The Gospel of Peter talks about the passion of Jesus and claims the authority of Peter who was there. These and many others were not accepted by the church as authoritative for various reasons.

The question of the historical reliability of the gospels has been questioned for many years by many people. In fact the gospels have been challenged more vigorously than secular texts from the same time period. The fact of the matter is that over 90% of the original text has been recovered and more than half of all the verses in the gospels agree with each other. Also many of the accounts from the gospels show up in other literature of the time. The documents were the gospels show up come after the gospels so the gospels were not derived from them. Some people would contend that the gospels are based on theology first and history second and should not be scrutinized for questionable historical material. Also the fact that the three synoptic gospels are so similar shows that they have to be based on facts.

The gospels have withstood the opposition’s attempts to refute them as purely mythological. For the Christians who believe them to be true, they tell not only the story of Jesus Christ but also give an example of his life that they should try to pattern.  


Green, Joel; McKnight, Scot; and Marshall, I. Howard ed. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. Intervarsity Press. 1992

Ralph, Margeret Nutting. Discovering the Gospels. Paulist Press 1990.

Edited by: Nathan Schau
Researched by: Jeff Johnson
Written by: Roy Tuv
December 18, 1998

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